Rafa retires Gabashvili in three tight sets

Rafael Nadal had to dig deeper than he would have liked or expected in his 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 first round win over 25-year-old Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia on Tuesday night under the lights of Arthur Ashe. 

Neither men broke serve in the first two sets of the nearly three-hour match. At times Nadal was visibly frustrated by his inability to break Gabashvili's serve, a player he had easily beaten twice in 2009, including a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win in the first round of Roland Garros. Though Gabashvili, ranked 93, had 49 winners to Nadal's 30 in the match, it was the number one player in the world's experience as a champion that gave him the mental edge when he was pushed to the brink. He out-smarted and overpowered Gabashvili during the tie-breaks in the first and second set, bombarding his befuddled opponent with well-placed serves and impossible-to-get passing shots.

"I had a few terrible mistakes with the breakpoints, so I went for two tiebreaks," Nadal said following the match, voicing his frustration. "I played well the two tiebreaks, I think. Is important for the confidence."

The third set proved to have more ups and downs. An exasperated and fatigued looking Nadal allowed Gabashvili to push him to deuce in the fourth game of the third set, but Nadal kept the pesky Russian at bay by dispatching a well-timed ace followed by a well-placed serve that Gabashvili promptly hit into the net to even the set at 2-2.

Rafa seemed poised to break Gabashvili in the seventh game of the set, going up 15-40, until he hit one of his trademark baseline backhands out of bounds, allowing Gabashvili back in the game to the crowd's dismay. Though Nadal allowed him back in the game, Gabashvili couldn't hang on, making two key errors that allowed Nadal the first break of the match.

Nadal followed his break by holding serve and going up 5-3 and finished Gabashvili off with one last service break to end the third set and the match.

The reigning Wimbledon and Roland Garros champion, Rafael Nadal is on a quest to complete a career Grand Slam. Only a title at the US Open has eluded him.

"Is the more difficult for me, especially I think because [of] the ball," Nadal said, commenting on why he has yet to hoist the last piece of Grand Slam hardware. "The ball [at the US Open] is more difficult thing for me because [it is easier] to play that ball when [players] have the flat shots. That's much easier for them than for the topspin players. But I won Olympics with this ball. I won in Beijing in 2005 with this ball. I can do it."

With a first round win against Gabashvili, his quest is still alive.

Match Facts
- Both Nadal and Gabashvili served 7 aces in the match.

- If Nadal wins this year's US Open, he will be only the fourth man in history to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles.

- The three men who have already completed this feat are Rod Laver, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

- Gabashvili's best performance at a Slam was at this year's French Open where he advanced to the fourth round. He has not advanced past the second round of any other tournament.

Source: usopen.org

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